Tips for Travelling on the Trans-Siberian

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Or any other long-distance train, for that matter.

  1. Bring a plastic/ metal mug and plenty of tea bags, instant coffee, or whatever floats your beverage boat. Hot water is free, and making tea will become an important activity. Cutlery is also useful.
  2. Bring lots of food and water. You can eat in the dining car but bringing your own stuff is considerably cheaper.  Aim for self-contained food that doesn’t require a lot of cleaning up, because you won’t have the equipment to do so. Instant noodles in their own pots are better than those in a packet. Apples, tangerines, packets of crisps, nuts and chocolate bars all have their place.
  3. Bring a pack of cards, or backgammon, or some other small, portable game to play.
  4. You will stow most of your luggage either in the space above the corridor, accessed by the top bunks, or under the bottom bunks. Neither is particularly accessible, so pack a separate bag of things you’ll need on the train: your washbag, a change of clothes, food, mug and cutlery, books, etc.
  5. Hide most of your money, passport and so on out of sight, but keep it with you. If you’re travelling alone, take your valuables with you to the bathroom/ dining car or wherever else you go. Otherwise make sure you leave them in the care of your travelling companion. Always bring your money and passport with you if you get off the train to stretch your legs, in case it leaves without you.
  6. Keep a small amount of cash separately in case you want to buy something either on the train or from one of the hawkers on the platforms.
  7. Most of the time you won’t be able to use the bathroom while the train is in a station, so make sure you go before it stops. You can see the timetable in the corridor. Be especially aware of this around border controls, because it might be hours before you can go. If you have an early morning border crossing you might want to set an alarm so you can wake up and use the loo before you stop. We learned this the hard way.
  8. A Russian phrase book is really useful.
  9. The Man in Seat 61 is good for planning your trip.
  10. Make friends with your provodnitsa (carriage attendant). She – mostly it’s a she – is a cross between an overbearing mother and a terrifying prison warden for the people under her care. You want to experience the mothering end of the spectrum.
  11. Make friends with your compartment mates, whoever they may be. They will become the best part of the trip.

My final point is for everyone who has mentioned that they are vaguely thinking of a Trans-Siberian trip: Do it. Book it right now. Seriously, book it book it book it. You won’t be bored, and you won’t regret it.

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